Arthur’s Law, Pre-Fab 4, smooth jazz

We get the funniest looks

More of the MonkeesIn response to my Phil Collins post, Arthur, who I’ve never mentioned, wrote: “As well you know, ‘Arthur’s Law’ keeps me from getting too worked up about what other people like or don’t like…

“This post reminds me of all the fashionable pile-ons over the years—Kenny G, Michael Bublé, Justin Bieber, etc., etc., etc. That’s a topic you could work on for the future?” Nah.

Arthur’s Law, as you all know, is: “Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.”

Two things come to mind, one a group, and one more a subgenre. I know there are others, but usually, I had so absorbed Arthur’s Law so completely that it became a non-issue.

Or I have no real idea about their oeuvre. I’ve heard the music of Bieber, for instance, and it just doesn’t stick to my brain. You could play My World, and I’d say, “Who is that?”

Here We Come

The group is The Monkees. They were the Pre-Fab Four, a created group who didn’t even play their own instruments! And I suppose I bought into that disdain for a time.

Eventually, they did play some of their instruments and write some of their own songs. More to the point, lots of singers and groups couldn’t, or weren’t allowed to play on their albums in the day.

As I recall, most of the Byrds were piqued when only Roger McGuinn was allowed to perform with the Wrecking Crew on a particular album. The next time out, with the Byrds playing, the process was considerably longer.

Or Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, studio musicians besides Herb in the studio, and pickup bands on the road. The Beach Boys was a working band, but the music they created in the studio was often augmented from Pet Sounds and forward.

Walkin’ Down the Street

The Beatles’ legendary Sgt. Pepper album came out in 1967. It was #1 for 15 weeks on the Billboard charts. Do you know the number one album in 1967 in the US? More of The Monkees, on top for 18 weeks, following the eponymous first album, #1 for 8 weeks in 1966, and 5 more in ’67.

Plus 1 week for Headquarters and the last 5 weeks with Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, Ltd. That’s 29 weeks for The Monkees at #1 in the Summer of Love.

Now, success is a weak reason to laud a band. But I learned to actually LIKE many of their songs. Pleasant Valley Sunday, with Mr. Green, “he’s so serene.” WordsGoing DownListen to the Band.

And Mary, Mary, which was originally performed by the Butterfield Blues Band. When The Monkees covered it, the rock intelligentsia was appalled. But the song was written by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees. So there, music snobs!

Music lite

The genre is light jazz or smooth jazz. REAL jazz was Ella or Satchmo or the Count or the Duke or Miles. That commercially successful stuff of Kenny G or Chuck Mangione – is that REALLY jazz?

Here’s a definition: “The fundamental difference… lies in the chief instrumentalist’s approach to improvisation. Typically, at least on record, smooth jazz musicians just don’t improvise. …

“As the artists found on smooth jazz playlists make clear, the ‘smooth’ is usually more important than the ‘jazz.'” Here’s the thing, though. If jazz is limited to mostly dead people, or people emulating dead people, the genre will die.

Moreover, a lot of those smooth folk are extremely talented. I caught the Christmas 2020 program of Dave Koz. He and his contingent (including one Rebecca Jade!) could really cook! And I don’t mean in a culinary way.

As one sage person once wrote, “Music is music if the feeling’s right.”

Graphic novel: Michael Jackson in Comics

as talented as he was eccentric

Michael Jackson in ComicsA friend of mine provided me with a digital version of Michael Jackson in Comics, a 190-page item from NBM Graphic Novels, officially released on February 12. Conceptually, I liked the idea of a narrative, broken up by various artists showing bits of the story.

It’s interesting to me that I actually knew a fair amount of the Michael Jackson story beforehand. I was familiar with his abusively controlling father, Joe trying to whip the Jackson 5 into shape. Like millions, I watched the 25th anniversary of Motown, when he debuted the moonwalk. But I had forgotten about his friendship with young Ryan White, who had become the face of HIV/AIDS in America.

Specifically, I wrote a paper in library school about how MTV didn’t allow black artists on the channel until the Columbia/Epic label threatened to pull ALL of their artists. Now, it’s hard to think of MTV without the videos from the Thriller album.

But the writer gingerly deals with the more “wacko” elements, such as his surgeries, his children, and the allegations of abusing young boys. Clearly, he believes Michael’s versions of the stories or thinks we just don’t know the facts.

The graphic pieces, done in the many styles, I enjoyed, for the most part. I preferred the pieces that actually expressed a point of view, rather than merely restating what was in the text. In particular, I thought Vox’s The Man With the White Socks, about a goofy fan, was a bit humorous.

Prolific

I take it that someone named Céka wrote both the text and scripted biography. He’s noted on Amazon as “also the author of the Rolling Stones in Comics. Formerly a copywriter in advertising, he has scripted over 30 graphic novels.”

The narrative is much better with the art. While some of the text was necessary, especially in the beginning and the very end, the story got very repetitive. If those text sections were edited down by about 50%, it would be a much better collection.

Moreover, he tended to use a lot of exclamation marks unnecessarily! And whoever did the layout would put hyphens to break up words in a most bizarre way! Mon-ths, for instance!

MJ was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Twice in five years. As the introduction to Michael Jackson in Comics notes, well beyond his passing in 2009, he “remains one of the most adulated and mysterious stars in the world.” I expect that is still true.

“Incredible singer, brilliant musician, amazing performer, he was just as talented as he was eccentric, adored as well as reviled with sordid accusations, sadly caught between a stolen childhood and a suffocating star system.”

Movie review: Small Axe – Mangrove

Steve McQueen

MangroveIs Small Axe a movie, a series, or what?. It is a British anthology film series, according to  Wikipedia. But IMDB refers to it as a TV miniseries.

Regardless, it was created and directed by Steve McQueen. Not the dead American actor, but the black British director. “The anthology consists of five films that tell distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s.”

It’s been showing on BBC One in the UK and on Amazon Prime Video in the US. “The title references a proverb – ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ – that was popularized by Bob Marley in his 1973 song ‘Small Axe.'”

Mangrove, the first Small Axe film refers to “the Mangrove restaurant… and the 1971 trial of the Mangrove Nine.” The eatery was located in Notting Hill, but Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are nowhere in sight. It was a “lively community base for locals, intellectuals and activists.”

“In a reign of racist terror, the local police raid Mangrove time after time, making Frank (Shaun Parkes) and the local community take to the streets in a peaceful protest in 1970. When nine men and women, including Frank and leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot, a highly publicized trial ensues…”

Mangrove also stars Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, and Jack Lowden. You may recognize Wright, who portrayed Shuri in Black Panther and the last two Avengers movies.

Yes, it does

If you didn’t know about how rampant racism works, you’d find the police blowback over a guy who just wanted to start a Caribbean restaurant unbelievable. Indeed, in one of only two unfavorable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes out of 122, John Anderson of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The brutality visited upon the Black characters is so extreme that you may find it hard to enter the story. This is not to say that what’s depicted didn’t happen. But as drama, it amounts to overkill.”

It’s difficult for some to believe that a place where people gathered and felt accepted could be a threat to the established order. Unfortunately, the events here do parallel incidents that have happened in the United States, some a few decades ago, others more recently.

Mangrove is a very fine film. I would be surprised if Wright and maybe others will be nominated for awards. McQueen’s real problem, based on what I’ve been reading, is that he may be in competition with his other Small Axe films. Episodes. Whatever they are.

Joe Biden’s Prez, hasn’t fixed everything yet!

$7.25? Really?

joebidenI suppose I should be really upset. Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. has been President of the United States for a whole month. And 46 hasn’t fixed everything yet! What is WRONG with him?

He’s only overturned SOME of 45’s awful positions. For instance, he reversed a Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender people from serving in the military. He has reinstated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, “the Obama-era program that has shielded hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation since it was created in 2012 through an Obama directive. The previous guy issued his own executive order to undo DACA in 2017.

“Other orders targeting foundational policies of the last administration include a Biden directive to reverse Trump’s ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, executive action to rejoin the Paris climate accord, and a proclamation stopping construction of his predecessor’s border wall.” But there are a whole bunch of others that need to be obliterated.

Oh, yeah, he’s helped to ramp up production of the COVID vaccines. But I don’t have MINE yet! It’s not scheduled until March 31! Yeah, he did that mask mandate on federal property, increasing food aid, and protecting those on unemployment because of the virus. But we want more, MORE!

Is this Cabinet process slow, or what?

Joe Biden has picked a diverse group to be in his Cabinet, but a bunch of them haven’t been confirmed yet. What gives? C’mon, Joe, whip those Senators into shape!

I’m particularly waiting for North Carolina regulator Michael S. Regan, his nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, his pick for interior secretary. Haaland would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, the “powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations.”

Maybe they can address the environmental racism that Full Frontal with Samantha Bee highlighted recently.

Seriously, though

I find myself, on a daily basis, less stressed. Former governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) probably is too. He said that he spent the last four years having to explain every comment, every tweet 45 issued, and now he doesn’t. I suspect that those Republicans who complained about Twitter’s “overreach” in banning 45 are not-so-secretly relieved.

Will the COVID relief package pass with bipartisan support, or with just the Democrats? I suspect that the bill could pass with some modification, but now I’m just spitballing.

Here’s an observation that some of my more liberal friends will hate. The $15/hour wage is not going to make it, even though it has been pushed for so long, it probably should be $22/hour by now. The conservative senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) offered a raise of the federal minimum wage from $7.25, which is still the law in about 20 states, to $11/hour. If he’s really for that, maybe DE Joe should suggest WV Joe that he actually  propose it, or maybe $13.

Yes, I know it’s grossly inadequate. But the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in a dozen years. That doesn’t mean that the half loaf is the end goal, only a starting point. As Otto von Bismarck said, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”

Music: Fratres by composer Arvo Pärt

tintinnabuli

arvo partFratres means Brothers. It is a composition by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935). The first time I heard this piece was very early this century. My wife and I were visiting a teacher friend of hers. This tune was playing on the stereo. I was fascinated.

Wikipedia says that Fratres exemplifies Pärt’s “tintinnabuli style of composition. It is three-part music, written in 1977, without fixed instrumentation and has been described as a ‘mesmerising set of variations on a six-bar theme combining frantic activity and sublime stillness that encapsulates Pärt’s observation that ‘the instant and eternity are struggling within us.'” Yes, “mesmerizing” is an accurate description.

Linus Åkesson writes: “The analytical meets the aesthetical as Pärt takes us on a meditative, harmonical journey, built up from a simple set of mathematical rules. Many people who listen to Fratres find it repetitive or even boring at first. After a while, though, they start to unconsciously recognize some of the patterns in the music.” I never found it boring.

The version I first heard I believe involved twelve cellos.
12 Cellists Of The Berlin Philharmonic.
Eight Cellos, Hungarian State Opera Orchestra

Then I heard this take, an adaptation for cello and electronics. It’s almost a different composition.
Hermine Horiot 
Lana Trotovsek on violin

Beats Antique, Violin, and Piano – Arvo Part Remix
Sheet music, violin, and piano

It turns out that many variations of this work exist, involving combinations of strings, percussion, recorders, piano, trombone, saxophone, and guitar. 
Saxophone soprano: José Pedro Gonçalinho

The composition has been used in at least a dozen films and documentaries, including There Will Be BloodTo The Wonder, and The Place Beyond the Pines.

Jazz pianist Aaron Parks incorporated elements of Fratres into his composition Harvesting Dance (2008), which has been performed by Terence Blanchard.