Posts Tagged ‘Boog Powell’

Here’s one of my many life goals: To be all ready to go on New Year’s Eve. Not just dressed to go out – I always aim to have my desk cleared, my body humming along like Ken Griffey Jr. rather than Boog Powell, and my big projects for the year lined up and waiting for me to dive in.

Some years I’m ready, or at least I’m close. Not this year. I gave up yesterday and finally started 2014. Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for reading this blog, even though I’m pretty sure I insulted you last year and I’ll insult you this year. I wish you all health and prosperity and plenty of good music in the next 12 months. Which brings me to my last musical topic of 2013, the band we saw on New Year’s Eve.

But first: When did New Year’s Eve become a public party? When did people start gathering in clubs, taverns, and dance halls to listen to loud music and drink like it’s St. Patrick’s Day?

F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations in his books, but I can’t recall reading anything like that in earlier authors – for example, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, William Dean Howells, Ambrose Bierce, or Stephen Crane. If H.P. Lovecraft liked to party, he kept it out of the papers.

Here’s another question: What makes a good New Year’s Eve band?

While Special D and I have extensively researched this topic, I’m not about to speak for her. Here instead are three of my ideas:

1)      Please practice, and not just the stuff you play the rest of the year. Learn “Auld Lang Syne.” Federal law requires you to play it at midnight so it would be a good idea to memorize a couple of verses, or at least write them down in big block letters.
2)      You must have a sense of humor; not everything is about you. Your audience will begin to evaporate at one minute after midnight. Maybe they want to finish the evening in their bathrobes eating ice cream; maybe they want to copulate at home rather than against one of your speakers. It’s not a comment on your musical talent.
3)      Original material is good, but on New Year’s Eve we mostly want to hear pop songs we already know. Don’t fret if you massacre one or two originals. That’s part of the fun. If you wreck them all you’ll antagonize an army of idiot bloggers.

Not a whiter shade of pale
When we suited up on New Year’s Eve, Special D added her boa to the fancy black number she wore. White Fang was pleased to be let out of the Nordstrom bag where he usually lives. He practically growled with antici…pation. We then headed uptown to a hall called The Secret Society where they had two bands and two djs waiting for us. The band I want to mention is called Brownish Black.

Where most bands might offer one unusual characteristic, say double the horn players or double the guitarists, Brownish Black’s lineup included three horns and two singers. That’s plenty of firepower right there, but they also fielded a bass player who played barefoot. His flashing white feet were particularly striking when he started marching in place. Rounding out the personnel was a drummer who looked like Justin Timberlake and a guitarist who looked like he’d left Pearl Jam due to artistic differences.

I was very impressed that this visually striking outfit met my first two requirements but totally trampled the third. Brownish Black plays R&B, soul, and funk that they wrote themselves. I believe I heard one cover, maybe two, in two hours of music. (They were probably able to get away with this because they only played until 11, when the second band took over.)

We loved their music, which I can only describe in terms of artists from the ’60s and ’70s:

If everyone in Big Brother & The Holding Company were black, and
if the leads were sung by Aretha Franklin and Peter Wolf, and
if you could borrow Rare Earth’s or James Brown’s horns, and
if everything were written by Sly Stone and Otis Redding,
you’d end up with Brownish Black. Plus the female singer loved White Fang.

I did hear one outstanding cover, but that was from the second band, Satin Chaps. For their opening blast they gave us a funky version of Deodato’s 1972 cross-over hit, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).” They couldn’t quite translate Deodato’s jazz-fusion into dance music, but I have to give them a shout-out for trying.

Best conversation of the evening
This happened in the men’s room, of all places. Ladies, we don’t have substantive conversations in there. There was one urinal and there were several of us waiting for one inebriated gentleman to finish. When he turned and saw the line, he said, “Oh, sorry fellas, I was reciting poetry.”

MAN IN LINE: What poem?
POETRY LOVER: The one where the guy’s wandering in the fucking woods.
2ND MAN: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”?
3RD MAN: Robert Frost.
POETRY LOVER: I love this club.

Robert Frost, by the way, was once arrested for dancing nude in a fountain on New Year’s Eve.

Random Pick of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
Twenty-eight songs by one of the most excellent bands of the 1980s.

I was looking for a job and I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

Morrissey says the right thing, always.

Random Pan of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
They could’ve done this on one disc! The filler they’ve included illuminates The Smiths’ biggest problem – how little their sound varies. Plus there’s no excuse for including “Oscillating Wildly,” the most boring instrumental in the history of boredom and instrumentals.

OK, it’s 2014. As The Smiths sang, “Please please please let me get what I want!”

Opera has done so much for the USA that I’m surprised we haven’t put up monuments to the genre. Opera gave us the words “diva” and “prima donna” and gave baseball announcers one of their most beloved lines, triumphantly pronounced during every improbable comeback: “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings!”

Opera gave us the Wagnerian battlewagon clutching a spear and wearing a Viking helmet with ram’s horns, the theme music to the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now, and the Rice Krispies commercial in which an operatic basso profundo runs out of cereal and has to be rescued by his meddling mother-in-law.

If there’s one thing we Americans know about opera, it’s that women are hilarious!

A day at the ballpark
Million of unsuspecting children have been introduced to opera through Saturday-morning cartoons. In Bugs Bunny’s Wagner parody “What’s Opera, Doc?” Elmer Fudd calls upon the elements to help him kill the wabbit: “Bwow, North Wind! Bwow, South Wind! Typhoon! Huwwicane! Earthquake! SMOG!” In “The Rabbit of Seville,” the Italian “barbero” Bugs defeats Signore Fudd with every instrument in his barber shop, including an electric razor on a cord that he snake-charms out of a basket.

When I was a kid, I confused opera with the songs my mother sang while washing the dishes, which came from The Sound of Music, Never on Sunday, and especially The King and I. Opera to me was Yul Brynner crooning “Shall We Dance?” to Deborah Kerr. I didn’t begin to understand the true nature of the beast until 1969, when Sports Illustrated published an opera about Baltimore Orioles first baseman Boog Powell. It was this spoof that introduced me to such opera building blocks as the libretto, the aria, and hysteria. I then tried listening to opera on the classical station. Wow, I thought. If only Mozart could’ve written music for Boog Powell. I’ve already started the libretto:

Shall we bat?
On a double off the wall shall we fly?
Shall we bat?
Shall we hit it over the fence and say “Goodbye”?
Or perchance,
With runners at the corners and no one out,
Shall we still work together
With our bats and gloves of leather
And our post-game brews in a vat?
On the clear understanding
That this kind of thing can happen,
Shall we bat?
Shall we bat?
Shall we bat?

A night at the opera
I never go near this stuff. But I owe opera for one of the best moments in chess: American champion Paul Morphy’s victory during a performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma in Paris in 1858.

Morphy had defeated all of the best players in the United States by the time he was 21. He then came to Europe where he caught and vaporized most of the leading players. At a party in his honor in Paris, Morphy was invited by the German Duke Brunswick and the French Count Isouard to sit in their private box at the opera house to take in a performance of Norma.

Norma, in case you haven’t seen it since its first run in the theaters, is a soothing story about doomed love and trophy wives in which Norma and her ex-boyfriend end up tied to the stake and set on fire before being hit by a train. The Duke and the Count had watched this one numerous times on Netflix, but it was all new to a very excited Morphy. Unfortunately, his Eurotrash friends put a condition on his attendance in their luxury seats: Morphy had to play one game of chess against the two of them, with his back to the show. This is how the 1% rolls. Morphy agreed to Occupy the Opera House on their terms. He probably figured he could sweep his opponents aside pretty quickly and only miss the first couple of innings.

Even though they could consult with each other, the royals had no hope of defeating Morphy. The disparity between their puny skills and their guest’s was about the size of the Grand Canyon. But that doesn’t mean that Morphy was bound to produce something brilliant. I teach chess to kids whose average age is 10 or 11. I’ve been playing chess longer than their parents have been alive. Even with this edge, our games are rarely elegant. The damn kids won’t cooperate! They either throw their pieces around like we’re in a huwwicane or burrow in like prairie dogs. It sometimes takes me 20 minutes before they’ll admit that I rule.

But Morphy, in that box in a hall that has long since turned to dust, created the immortal “Opera Game.” It is so crystal clear in the meaning of each of its 16 moves that it’s a joy to teach to children and adults alike. Even cynical, eye-rolling 15-year-old boys become entranced as Morphy sacrifices almost all of his pieces, including his Queen, before checkmating his unhappy hosts and immortalizing them in a million chess books. It helps that when I teach it, in addition to moving the pieces I can act out all the parts, including what everyone was thinking. That’s opera for you.

A friend for life
I’m writing this for my dear friend Jack Palmer, who passed away on Saturday, January 15, at the age of 84. Jack loved his family, football, birds, postcards, blimps, ocean liners, the Kalakala, kites, new restaurants, playing in the mail, making art, making fun of me, and opera. He feared snow, bagpipes, statistics, high prices, fat guys eating corn dogs, and I think The Eagles. In the ’90s, before he retired, he observed that his colleagues played the Classic Rock station all day and that “every other damn song is by The Eagles.” Later he told me that every other damn song was by Fleetwood Mac. Or Chicago. It was clear that he couldn’t tell these groups apart. I could insert a snarky comment here about The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Chicago, but Jack has already done so far above my poor power to add or subtract.

I miss you very much, Jack, and I’m thankful that you had 30 years of grace following your first heart attack. I don’t know what kind of man I would be today if you had slipped away from us in 1981. Probably a lesser one.

But I still wouldn’t like opera.