Z is for Zest: energy, flavoring

The question is whether they’ve taken the musical stew and found the zest to make it it innovative.,

Zest is a noun meaning “great enthusiasm and energy”. It’s also a verb: “scrape off the outer colored part of the peel of (a piece of citrus fruit) for use as flavoring.”

I was thinking about that when I read this from Ken Levine’s blog, sitcoms could be better. Larry Gelbart, chief writer of the TV show MASH, explained to Carol Burnett that current writers “never played stickball,” that their references are usually other sitcoms and pop culture.

While I mostly agree, I think that in virtually all the arts have always stealing borrowing from what came before. The renowned classical composers such as J.S. Bach were notorious for this.

The question is: how innovative is the borrowing?

When my wife and I went to the Albany Symphony Orchestra in November 2017, we heard The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas. Naturally thought of the Mickey Mouse segment in the 1940 film Fantasia. The story line of the cartoon is a rather strict retelling of the 1797 Goethe poem. Yet it’s a classic.

Jazz musicians recreate standard tunes. The early rock and rollers purloined blues, country, jazz and more. Cover artists, when they do it right, can replace the original in the minds of the audience.

The Beatles were notorious thieves: a Bach bit in Penny Lane, Fats Domino in Lady Madonna, Little Richard in I’m Down. And on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they stole from everyday life: a child’s drawing (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), an old circus poster (Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite), a meter maid (Lovely Rita). The question is whether they’ve taken the musical stew and found the zest to make it it innovative, or is it just derivative? Usually, it was the former.

One of the pop songs that most irritated me is Susan by the Buckinghams, a #11 song on the US charts in 1968. It is a rather ordinary, even bland tune. But Sgt. Pepper had come out, so it was decided by some producer to throw in, for no discernible musical reason, a weird A Day in the Life-inspired orchestration in the middle that just wasn’t earned.

How you make what’s old, new, whether in sitcom writing or music, is zest.

Listen to:

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Dukas; Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic

A Day In The Life – The Beatles

Susan -The Buckinghams

For ABC Wednesday

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

10 thoughts on “Z is for Zest: energy, flavoring”

  1. It was James William Guercio, then better known for producing Chicago (the band) than for his Buckinghams work, who inserted the collage, adapted from a Charles Ives composition; the band, by all accounts, hated it. And amazingly, it’s still controversial; a music board on which I hang out has several members trying to score some of the few (not all) radio-promo versions that lack the presumed psychedelia. (Varèse Vintage, on one of its On the Radio compilation CDs, actually had a stereo mix of the shortened version.)

    For what it’s worth, the current version of the Buckinghams (two members remain from the early days) skips over that section in concert.

    Sagittarius, an ad hoc group formed by producer Gary Usher, released (also in 1968, and also on Columbia) a glorious mess called “My World Fell Down,” which contains a similar unrelated section. (The late Glen Campbell is supposed to have sung the lead, though it’s a good third above his usual range, making me think the tape was sped up.) “My World,” however, got no higher than #70.

  2. Wonderful post where you pose great questions ~ Truly there is ‘nothing new under the sun.’
    Just gets put into a new ‘package’ ~ I think.

    Happy Week to You,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  3. Do you know if “yesterday” from the Beattles was also a steal? Surely sounds like it!
    Happy New Year Roger, to you and yours!

  4. Interestingly, Paul asked people around him, and they said NO. But someone, MUCH later, found it to be an unconscious theft.

  5. Such zest for stealing. And so it goes for quotes too. The book You Don’t Say is quite intriguing in its claims of who stole what from who.

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