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Odd Lots

  • Alas, we have lost my favorite country music star, Toby Keith, of stomach cancer, at 62. He had lots of hits, but may be most famous for “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the most-played country song of the 1990s. (And if you’ve never seen my filk “Should’ve Been a Jedi,” you can find it here.) Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
  • Ever heard of Venus’ moon Zoozve? You say Venus doesn’t have any moons? Well…it’s complicated. And interesting. Not to mention funny as hell.
  • Orkin (the bug people) posted a list of the top 50 US cities for bedbug infestations. My home town is #1. My current metro isn’t even on the list. I guess I chose wisely.
  • February is National Grapefruit Month, and today is National Fettuccine Alfredo day. Alas, my birthday is National Mud Day—granting that when I was a kid, I played happily in the mud. How do I know such important things? Of course: There’s a website for it. Select a day, week, or month, and who knows what people will be celebrating?
  • Well, it’s not exactly a flying car, but…it’ll do, it’ll do.
  • Three million malware-infected smart toothbrushes were gathered into a botnet that tormented Swiss servers with DDOS attacks. Uggh. My toothbrush is smart enough to be dumb. And hey, it smells like Pepsodent. Can’t beat that!
  • Trout gonads can cure baldness when injected into your head. So just eating the trout doesn’t work? Bummer. I’m out.

Spiking a Christmas Song

I was going to mess with an ancient Christmas song involving eating pig heads—surely you’ve heard of “The Boar’s Head Carol”—but that may have to wait for another day, ideally after everybody’s already had Christmas dinner.

No, this morning I want to write about something I learned just yesterday, about another Christmas song that Carol and I both like. We’ve never heard it on the radio, and we wouldn’t know about it at all if it weren’t on our very favorite Christmas CD: Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters (1978). The song is the medley “It’s Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children.” It’s on none of our other numerous Christmas CDs, and my assumption has long been that Karen and Richard wrote it themselves, as it’s a little bit whimsical and in spots a little bit goofy.

I got curious yesterday and looked it up. The song was actually written by four men: Alan Bergman, Al Stillman, Victor Young, and Leon Klatzkin. It’s not new; in fact, it was first recorded in 1953. And when I read who first recorded it, I laughed out loud. It was Spike Jones!

Ok, I suspect young people will wonder who that is, and why his name made me laugh. Short form: Spike Jones (1911-1965) was the Weird Al Yankovic of the 1940s and 1950s. He took popular songs of other artists and recorded them in his own satirical style, with manic voices, gunshots, whistles, cowbells, hiccups, and other “special effects”. I came upon Spike Jones and His City Slickers when I was quite young; probably five or at most six. In that era my folks had a creaky old record player and a cabinet full of 78RPM records, including a few by Spike. His best known spoof song is probably “Cocktails for Two.” Note that the linked YouTube item is not a video of Spike and his band performing the song. It’s a sort of primordial music video, with Spike playing a bartender with many of the sound effects done by tipsy men at the bar. I’m sure sophisticates will roll their eyes, but when I was six I thought the song was hilarious.

So when I went looking for Spike’s version of “It’s Christmas Time” on YouTube, what I found is a cut from Spike’s Christmas album—and on this cut at least, Spike himself is notably absent. The song is played straight, with no silly sound effects, but rather a nice choir and lots of harmony. I imagine it’s Spike’s City Slickers band playing in the background. There’s a little bit of goofiness in some of the other cuts from that album, but for the most part it’s just Fifties Big Band vocals playing Christmas standards. Several are on YouTube; listen to a few if you’re interested.

I have to wonder what Spike thought of rock and roll, and what he might have done with it (or to it, more likely) had he not smoked himself to death at 53. He wasn’t a filker (like Bob Rivers of Twisted Christmas) and I wonder if he had imitators. If he did, I’ve never heard of them.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for reading me in whatever form, and putting up with my occasional Spike Jones-ish metaphors like the Base Four Martians in my assembly language book. Have a fun Christmas, with good food, good wine, good friends, good music (even if it’s a little goofy in spots) and an occasional glance to the heavens, and a word of thanks to God, who gave us the ability to laugh and be silly as we make our way through His beautiful and extravagant creation!

Found it! (No Thanks to “Query By Humming”)

Well, after supper this evening I finally found a piece of music I had been searching for since, well, I’m not entirely sure.  But waaaaaay back when I was in third or fourth grade (think 1961-62) my Catholic grade school did a kind of a talent show, mostly by seventh and eighth graders. There was singing and dancing and music of various sorts, but one composition threw me back in my chair. Everything I liked and still like in music was there: melody, harmony, energy. The music was from a record (it was an instrumental) and what may have been an eighth-grade girl in a sequined costume did a dance routine that included baton twirling. (Add “baton twirling” to my list of things that are disappearing or are already gone.) I was impressed by her ability to dance and twirl at the same time, but the song—it has remained vivid in my memory to this day.

I can whistle it—and have whistled it for several people, in hope that they could name it. The name of the song was on the mimeographed show program that we all received, but as vivid as the song itself has remained, its name vanished into the mists of my personal history. I get the sense for a title like “Trumpet Jubilee” but no such song (as best I can tell) exists.

“Query-by-humming” is a term I first heard from David Stafford, and Google can actually do that—sorta. If I’m in a store and their Muzak channel is playing something that appeals to me, I yank out my phone, bring up Google, and hit the microsphone icon. The problem with Google is that it can only identify recorded music. I tried whistling the song into Google any number of times, but it always threw up its hands and gave up.

So this evening over dinner it occurred to me out of nowhere: That song sounds like something Leroy Anderson would do. So once we got the dishes done, I ran back in here to my office and looked for a list of Anderson compositions. No “Trumpet Jubilee.” But…”Bugler’s Holiday?” Dare I hope? I went to YouTube and found a recording by the US Army Band.

YESSSSS! That’s it!

There are a dozen performances on YouTube, all of them very listenable. One thing I found peculiar is that every single one of them seems faster than I recall the rendition played for that baton-twirling eighth grader in 1962. Maybe I hear it more slowly in my head because I can’t whistle anywhere near that fast.

Who cares! I found it!

(I’ve already scolded myself for grumbling that those are trumpets, not bugles.)

So. Look for something long enough, and sooner or later you’ll find it. In 1968 I heard a no-hit-wonder band play the Monkees song “Shades of Gray” exactly once…with a faint recall that the band was The Willoughbys. It took 35 years, but I eventually found it in a book listing rock 45s, only the band was The Will-O-Bees. I mentioned it here on Contra and actually got an email from Janet Blossom, their lead singer. I bought that 45 at a crufty used record store, ripped it and cleaned it up, and now I can play it whenever I want.

I’ll do the same with “Bugler’s Holiday.” Except now I’ll just go up to Amazon and buy the MP3. No ripping required.

Having scored this victory, I’ll now dredge the swamp in my brain to see what else in the line of music I might have forgotten that would be well worth listening to.

Flashback: New Music on YouTube

I posted this entry last year on 12/23. I haven’t discovered a lot of new Christmas music since then, so I’ll repost the entry here in its entirety. This may become an annual thing, plus new tracks as I discover them. So earbuds on and enjoy!


As we close in on Christmas, I wanted to post a few items I’d found and liked on YouTube. Nearly all of it is Christmas music. (I’ll post some other non-Christmas discoveries in a future entry.)

And that, my friends, is precisely what Christmas music is for.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Here’s a longish research paper from the NIH National Library of Medicine exploring studies of the effects of light at night (LAN) on various body functions. One of the most startling is the degree to which night work correlates to obesity and Type II diabetes. Less clear but more concerning are links between LAN and certain cancers. The message appears to be: Sleep at night, in the dark. Carol and I do that, and have all our lives.
  • Hating the Other evidently heightens activity in our reward centers. The late Colin Wilson explored the issue, and claimed that in modern society we have to give ourselves permission to hate the Other…but once we do, hating the Other is delicious and hard to stop. This explains a lot about tribalism in modern politics, 90% of which is about hating the Other–and an important reason why I don’t write about politics.
  • Virginia Postrel has a related article on her Substack, about the role of what she calls “purity” and its relation to cancel culture. She mentions Gavin Haynes’ notion of a “purity spiral,” which I think nails the whole purity business. It’s an effort to outbid others in pursuit of an unattainable ideal. It is thus more evidence supporting my notion that idealism is evil.
  • I’ve always wondered why music in a minor key sounds sad, spooky, or creepy. Here’s one of the better online essays on the subject.
  • I include this (slightly) related item because it asks a question I’ve never heard asked before: What is the most evil chord in music? I would guess it’s the chord that runs around with a chainsaw, cutting treble clefs in thirds, and playing hob in a minor key.
  • I wonder how I got to be 70 without ever hearing about raccoon dogs, which are neither raccoons nor dogs. They’re an interesting, albeit invasive, species of canid found in the Far East. The Japanese call them Tanuki, though I don’t recall them coming up in conversation when I was in Japan in 1981.
  • Speaking of my 70th birthday, my writer friend and collaborator Jim Strickland brought a Cabernet Sauvignon to our dual birthday party on July 16. I tried it and found it…not bitter. That was a first in my wine experience, granting that once I tasted a few bitter specimens, I basically stopped trying them. The wine in question is from Daou, vintage 2020. About $20 at our Kroger-affiliate supermarket. Quite dry, but no oak, which spoils all the other flavors for me..
  • Well. Ever heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” played on several disemboweled scanners and piles of 5″ floppy drives, plus the occasional phone modem? Here’s your chance.
  • In case you don’t yet have enough interesting things to read, here’s the Smithsonian’s history of the hard hat.
  • Back in June, people in San Francisco reported that anchovies were falling from the sky. People did not report anyone running around the city’s streets holding a pizza and hoping for free fish.
  • Hey, this was evidently a banner year for Pacific Coast anchovies. My guess is that with no one putting them on pizzas anymore, their depleted populations have rebounded.
  • After using it since 2005, LiveJournal has canceled my account there. I don’t think anybody was reading it anyway. It was a mirror, and I have better backup schemes now.

New Music on YouTube

Way back in the summer I posted here about digging around on YouTube for new music, particularly in the realms of melody and harmony. I admit that an occasional hard rock song appeals to me for reasons unclear, a good example being the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You.” The human brain is a weird business, but we’re all nerds here and you knew that.

So, as we close in on Christmas, I wanted to post a few items I’d found and liked on YouTube. Nearly all of it is Christmas music. (I’ll post some other non-Christmas discoveries in a future entry.)

And that, my friends, is precisely what Christmas music is for.

Hallowander

Halloween. Wow. It seemed like the Fourth of July was just a few weeks ago. Then Carol and I walked into Wal-Mart. We live on a street with only a few kids, and if memory serves we ended up eating most of last year’s candy ourselves. So we bought a couple of bags of stuff we wouldn’t mind finishing, if it comes to that.

And it will.

At Wal-Mart (and probably almost everywhere else in the retail universe) Halloween was already over, and shoved to one side of the Seasonal aisle. Many of the candy SKUs were gone, including every species of M&Ms but…popcorn. Huh? Popcorn flavored M&Ms? I’d like to say I’ve seen stranger things, but I’m not sure I can. (Ok, sure: Peanut butter-flavored whiskey is a contender, as is coffee-flavored Coke.) At least we got it cheap. And the rest of the Seasonal aisle–along with much of the rest of the store–was already full-bore Christmas. No surprise.

And still tiny radishes. That’s the only kind of radishes you can get at Wal-Mart. Back in September you could still get full-sized radishes at Fry’s and Safeway. Now everybody is selling miniature radishes. I like slicing radishes and covering the tops of our salads with them. Microradishes cut a little easier than big radishes, but you have to cut a whole lot more of them.

Oh–and Total Wine now sells a red blend infused with…habanero. Maybe there’s a habanero surplus because everybody with asbestos esophagi are demanding ghost peppers in everything. So the winemakers could be getting them cheap. (An aside: Witching Hour wines are decent, for cheap red blends. Why not get a bottle for your Halloween festivities? There are several SKUs. Just read the labels before you drop them in your shopping cart, ok?)

Maybe there’s a habanero surplus. I really don’t care, as long as they don’t start loading it into iced coffee. But I will tell you something else: There is a severe onion-ring shortage. Two fast-food restaurants that we haunt now and then haven’t been able to get onion rings for literally weeks. For Corleone’s, it’s been longer than that. A little sniffing around online tells me that the world’s #1 exporter of onions is…China. So the nation’s onion rings are likely as not sitting in that immense barge-clot that’s jamming up California ports, especially off Los Angeles.

There’s hope on that front. As usual, the problem devolves to idiotic regulation by government seat-warmers who’ll gladly collapse the world’s economy because a handful of whiners in LA complains that they can see containers stacked more than two high at the ports. If they’re on a ladder. And holding binoculars. Here’s a long-form explanation of how that was discovered and how it was (maybe, or might be) solved. Let us pray. I miss onion rings.

My old friend Mike Bentley posted a link to a stack rank of books about…drumroll please…the PowerPC CPU. My PowerPC book came in at #7. Mike’s was at #24. All those books were long ago and far away. Once Apple switched to Intel CPUs, the PowerPC went gently into that good night. That’s too bad; it was a solid architecture and deserved better. In case you’re interested in PowerPC books, you can get mine on Amazon. It’s a shame the mass-market paperback is now going for $877.95. I guess you’d better order the trade paperback, which sells for $4.75. A footnote: There never was a mass-market paperback edition. Maybe it’s a ghost. (More likely a daemon, heh.)

Carol has a recipe for beer bread that she wants to try, and we’re going to make it pumpkin-spice beer bread. How? By using pumpkin-spice beer. I bought a 12 oz can of Sleepy Dog Gourdgeous Pumpkin Spice Ale yesterday. You likely won’t see it in stores because it’s a local product, produced in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Not sure how well it will work. I’ll let you know.

A quick aside: I’m still getting old coins in change at McDonald’s and other stores when I pay cash. The nation’s penny jars are still emptying into our outstretched hands. The other day I scored a 1969-S and a 1975-D in one transaction.

Speaking of stack-ranks, Google has a search-trends stack rank of Halloween costumes. We don’t see a lot of kids in costumes anymore, and it’s been a very long time since I wore one myself. I’m thinking a lot of these popular outfits are popular with adults. #1 is Witch. (My psychic powers predicted that one.) It’s an interesting list, and starts getting peculiar fairly quickly. #10 is Chucky, the serial murderer doll from the Chilld’s Play flicks. #18 is the 1980s. Ok, I could see the 1970s as a costume. (Maybe I wore a costume more recently than I thought.) But the ’80s? What is it? A pinstriped suit with matching vest? It surprised me that Princess was down to #30. Disney may have saturated its market. I had to look up “The Purge,” which took #38. And #49: The 1990s? I got nuthin’. (The site does not provide examples, just stats.) Oh–#59 was the 1970s. Dressing a kid up like the 1970s might be considered child abuse in some jurisdictions. And that’s as far as I went.

KBAQ, our local classical music station, is going to be playing Halloween-appropriate classical compositions all day long and into the evening, including a lot you may not have heard of. You can stream it here no matter where you live. If you like classical music, it may surprise you how many compositions are about ghosts, devils, death, and wizardry/witchery–or at very least sound like they should be. (One example is the waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade.)

In closing, on this long afternoon of the creepiest night of the year, I present a recent translation of an ancient Halloween prayer that most of you have heard many times:

“From goosies and goalies and long-legged besties
And things that grow hemp in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”

Close Harmony

I’ve been low-energy for most of this past week, and haven’t made much progress on various projects. These things happen. I filled in some holes (of which there are many) in my memoirs, but mostly I’ve been prowling YouTube for new music. I hear occasional classical cuts on KBAQ that I’ve never heard before and buy them as singles on Amazon, usually for 99c or (at most) $1.25. So I have classical covered. I do like pop music. My collection is…big. But I’ve been gathering it since I was in high school, and I’ve heard it all a lot. I’ve caught myself being impatient when one track or another isn’t over yet. That’s a pretty clear sign that I need to freshen up the collection a little.

I’ve been looking on YouTube. A lot of people probably haven’t caught on to the fact that whatever music you like is probably in buried in that huge pile somewhere. Really, it’s not all cute puppy videos. I consider the Monkees’ cover of the Mann-Weil song “Shades of Gray” pretty obscure. It was never on a single, even as a B-side. But it’s there. The accompanying video is forgettable. In truth, I generally don’t watch the video portion of a song playing. The other day I was taking notes on The Molten Flesh and listening to a lot of different things. I put the browser down in the taskbar. It’s a lot like listening to the radio, and all it takes to “change the station” is to bring the browser back up into view and look for something else.

As long as I’ve listened to music, what has mattered to me are melody and harmony. Youtube does a pretty good job of suggesting tracks I might like after I play something. So I jump from one song and one artist to another. There are plenty of misses. The hits I add to a playlist. The best of the best I buy on Amazon and copy to the thumb drive that plugs into my stereo in the Durango.

One of the first things I found startled me for a number of a reasons. It’s the Podd Brothers’ NYC Virtual Choir and Orchestra, performing the old hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing.” There must be a hundred singers and musicians, all at home, each shown in a window in a matrix that scans around as the track plays. The harmony, wow, particularly toward the end when the orchestra goes quiet and the singers go full a capella. I was startled by the faces, which are the faces of ordinary people, which is to say, not movie stars or rock stars, of all ages and races. Any of them could have been my friend, and by the end of the song I caught myself wishing that all of them were. And that’s music, with a capital M!

Most of my old friends were present. I’ve been listening to Celtic Woman for a long time. Some of my colleagues dislike the big stage productions they prefer, but I’m not in it for the video. Their cover of “The Parting Glass” is wonderful. I’m not a huge fan of bagpipes, but in this case, well, it fits. Another solid piece they have is “Tir Na Nog,” which I had not heard before.

Perhaps the best discovery so far is Brigham Young University’s Noteworthy, an a capella group of college-age women, and they are good. Close harmony doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. Consider their cover of “When You Believe” from the animated film Prince of Egypt. It’s a powerful piece from anyone who performs it well, and this is hands-down the best I’ve ever heard. “Be Thou My Vision” is another favorite hymn here. Listen to harmony on this one, yikes.

The biggest single surprise so far is almost certainly the One Voice Children’s Choir. Getting what looks like most of forty or fifty kids to sing harmony is a feat that boggles the mind. And they are really, really good. Consider their cover of the Chainsmokers’ 2017 hit, “Something Just Like This” It’s a terrific song, and even better when the voices are this good. The first time I heard it I had a weird realization: This song could be a duet between Larry and Sheri, the stars of my novel Dreamhealer. Larry reads all the old books (which get him into quite a bit of trouble) whereas Sheri wants a good man at her side, and she could do without all the occultish dream arcana. (Sheri loves him and follows him anyway, all the way to the center of the Collective Unconscious, to face down the Architect of All Nightmares.) One Voice also does a cover of “When You Believe,” and it’s excellent. Ditto “J’Imagine.” Kid choirs seem to be a thing right now. Here’s one from Ukraine, singing “Something Just Like This.”

Maybe you’re not that into close harmony. No sweat. I don’t listen to rap. As best I can tell, it’s all here. Set aside an evening, pour yourself a drink, and poke around. Whatever might be bothering you, I’m pretty sure you’ll feel better. Worked for me.

Music You’ve Heard But Can’t Name

Leroy Anderson came up in conversation recently, and I remarked that his orchestral compositions are a perfect example of music that everybody’s heard but (almost) nobody can name. When you hear an Anderson piece, you think, Sure, everybody’s heard that! But then you waste a minute or two trying to remember what it’s called. And you fail.

There are exceptions. Anderson wrote “Sleigh Ride,” and although you may not remember the name of the composer, you damned well know the name of the song.

I’m not sure what Leroy Anderson’s most-heard but least-named piece is, but I’d wager it’s “Fiddle Faddle.” (If you like ants, here’s a video of ants walking around to “Fiddle Faddle.” Don’t watch it if you don’t like bugs. Fits somehow, though, doesn’t it?) Second place may well go to “Blue Tango.” with “Forgotten Dreams” close behind. A lot of people know the name of “The Syncopated Clock,” but fewer, I think, could name Anderson as the composer.

My personal Anderson favorite may not be quite as well-known (It only made it to #180 of the Billboard annual tally–in 1953) but if you’re among the 50+ crowd, you’ve definitely heard it. And the sound effects pretty much give it away. My grandmother gifted me her huge cast-iron Underwood typewriter in 1962, when I could barely lift it myself. I pounded on it for six years, until my godmother bought me a Smith-Corona electric in 1968. The Underwood Standard #5 hammered out a lot of my juvenalia during its tenure, but I’m pretty sure that it could not smack the platen anywhere near fast enough to do justice to Anderson’s borderline-manic “The Typewriter.” This guy tries pretty hard, though with a much smaller typewriter.

Which leads me to wonder: How many people these days have ever actually heard a manual typeriter, much less used one?

As for un-nameable music, Leroy Anderson had no lock on the concept. I think a lot of people have heard at least portions of “The Light Cavalry Overture” without knowing what it was. You’ll have to listen for a couple of minutes to get to the familiar part. But when you do, you’ll know it. It’s become a metaphor for slogging doggedly along, and in truth I like the other parts better. Ditto Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld Overture.” You have to get about seven minutes into the work, but, then, yes, you’ve heard it a hundred times.

Any others come to mind?